Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mystery of Musk-Thoughts and other Perfumes

Well, the Mystery of Musk project is coming to a close...though there's still the odd review trickling in. Seems it's been a tad overwhelming for some of the reviewers to work through all of the 12 entries in the originally planned time!
As for me, I'm exhausted! It's been such an adventure...
And it has taught me so much....
First of all of course, it was wonderful to get so many positive reviews, and it blew me away how many other artistic projects in form of poetry and visual art it stimulated!
You've all read about my own trials and tribulations in creating my own contribution to the project, "Craving" in previous posts....
So you can imagine how fascinating it was for me to then get to smell what all of my collegues had come up with! And a few of you have written asking me about my impressions of the other perfumes

So here's a few of my thoughts and observations:

First of all, I was fascinated with how diverse the 12 perfumes are!
We all seem to have taken different paths in our creations, and have ended up with completely different scents! What really surprised me, is that all, except for mine and Adams, are florals!
This really surprised me, as I don't really associate the idea of musk with florals at all....

My own experience of musk perfumes has been things like Kiehl's Musk oil, "Merely Musk" by Coty and others along similar lines, all of which are very linear, dry woody, well, "Musk" scents.

And originally, this was the kind of Scent I was trying to re-create useing natural ingredients.
I very quickly came to the conclusion that this was impossible, and the varied "Mystery of Musk" creations of my collegues seem to back me up in this.
Modern day "musk" scents are created useing isolated chemicals that immitate parts of the infamous musk scent originally obtained from musk deers private parts. They don't actually smell much like the far more complex and "dirty" natural musk...they are really more of a gentler, cleaned up and far more unobtrusive echo of the idea of musk......
And being made of isolated chemicals, there is no way you can recreate them useing the incredibly complex ingredients we use in natural perfumery.
The closest to modern day musk scents, is Ambrette seed absolute or Co2 extract. This lovely ingredient, when applied to the skin has just that soft, gently pheromonal warmth that we have come to associate with the idea of "musk".
But in itself it is not a perfume. It simply isn't intense enough to carry a scent all on it's own.
Which meant that I, like all of my collegues, ended up creating perfumes that have musky notes, but were in themselves not pure musks.
And this is where it got interesting.

Anya McCoy, head of the Natural Perfumers Guild had listed a variety of natural plants that have musk notes in them. And all of us MoM perfumers used ingredients from this list.
But which ones we chose, and what other ingredients we added led to the incredible degree of variety we ended up with.
As I wrote in the beginning, most of my collegues ended up creating floral perfumes, with varying degrees of musky base notes to them. In a number of cases, I get the impression that the perfumer became more inspired by the non-musk ingredients and ended up conentrating on the floral or fruit notes, so that the musk became more of an afterthought than the central theme.
(Some of the reviewers admittedly seemed to think I had done the same with the chocolate and gourmand notes in "Craving" too...)
On the other hand, it is also very obvious that this taste for florals is shared by a large number of perfume lovers out there! The comments by readers echoed the reviewers love and interest for each floral dominated MoM entry!

Adam's "Dionysius" is the only other MoM scent that to me wasn't either floral or fruit dominated.

The other thing I learnt from from reviewing the scents-and also from conversations with one of the reviewers, Denyse Beaulieu from "Grain de Musc", is the concept of linear versus multi faceted, changing design in the various layers of a perfume.

My own taste I now realize, runs to linear design. I prefer simple scents that follow a specific theme, and I tend to design perfumes with matching or at least closely echoing and complimentary layers.
Whereas others of my collegues seem to favour multi faceted scents that change considerably as they wear.
This doesn't mean that I didn't like them mind you...some of the multi faceted MoM scents had a multitude of pretty facets that, while different, were like a multi coloured caliedoscope of varying but harmonious changing chords...
but there were a few where the facets were too varied for me to find a common tune, and the overall effect for me was a tad clashing.

This concept finally explained why so many famous perfumes irritate the hell out of me instead of enchanting my senses.

Many of the classics, like Madame Rochas and Estee Lauders Aromatics Elixir, have what to my nose are intensely clashing notes that create a nasty clamour of scent that I really dislike.
Whereas mens colognes like "Grey Flannel" and Eau Savage and the simple musks I mentioned in the beginning have simpler, far more linear and less cluttered scent characters that I am far more comfortable with.

And I stress here that I am talking merely of my own taste in scent. As the so widely varying reviews of the various perfumes have clearly shown, perfume really is a matter of taste, not something you can easily give an objective judgement of.

The other thing I learnt is how difficult it actually is to write a review about a perfume!
Once you get beyond the like/dislike mark, it's really difficult to find the language to adequately describe what you are smelling. I've always disliked traditional perfumery language, and have often, if not usually found that conventional perfume reviews seem to talk about notes that I simply don't smell in the perfumes at all. To the point that I have often wondered if my nose works differently to other peoples. And to be honest, I found the same thing reading some of the reviews from the mystery of musk project!
But when I sat down to write my own impressions, I had to admit that writing a decent perfume review is bloody difficult! So I would like to extend my admiration to the dedication and effort that the reviewers for the Mystery of Musk project put in!
It's been a great experience, and has given me much delightful food for thought and inspiration for some future projects as well!

To finish off, I'd like to share a bit about some of the ones that caught my interest most from the Mystery of Musk project. (They are also not necessarily the ones the critics raved about the most, which I found interesting too).

The first one I will write about, is  from one of the  new comers to the Natural Perfumers Guild:

"Tallulah B2" by Jane Kate of  "A Wing and a Prayer Perfumes" 
is what I can best describe as a "baby powder rose musk". It surprised me with it's gentle softness, a truly delightful scent and by far the softest and lightest of all the MoM entries.
It very cleverly uses a combination of ingredients to create a sweet, powdery note that to me smells the way Orris root based perfumes are supposed to smell but rarely do. The citrus top notes are subtley enough applied to merely lend a touch of brightness to the composition without being obvious or subtracting from the gentle powdery lady-like musk itself. 

"Musk Nouveau" by Charna Either of Providence Perfumes. This one reminded me of a sweet, boozy coctail! It's warm a deep and fruity, with tightly woven accords of yummy wicked things! It's sweetness deepens on my skin and a deep fig liqour with interesting's a lovely, slightly evil scent this one!

The third one is "Musk No5" by Roberto Dupetit
When I first smelt this one it struck me as more of a floral aldehyde than anything else. And it fascinated me because I had absolutely no idea how he had created it! Turns out I wasn't far off the mark.  Alfredo uses natural isolates in his perfume, which has definitely piqued my curiosity. After a more floral opening, it actually reminds me of the original No5 by Chanel, which I wore and loved in my youth. I was fascinated to find this in a natural scent, as No5 was one of the first perfumes to use artificial aldehydes in high quantities. The floral notes follow the aldehydes into the dry down, where the scent becomes drier and warmer and a sweetish by note.

I'll be posting the last missing reviews for "Craving" as they turn up....

And thanks to you all for sharing my journey into the world Wild Creation and of Public Reviews!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. When Ross posted his initial alert to the impending Mystery of Musk Competition at the Olfactory Rescue Service Blog my interest was pricked but not much more than that. What's happened for me since has been a little bit like what's happened for you Ambrosia. Some fairly amazing and often wildly synchronistic experiences have played out around me.

    I've sort of been around the world via the project and ended up home again with three tiny samples before me, all amazing natural perfumes containing previously unheard ofs such as Omumbiri and Omumbungu all three created by Sophia in Africa before me.

    I know after your "Cravings" arrives me I'll be completely home again. What an amazing journey for you and turns out for me also.

    Learning that the inspiration that gave birth to MoM Competition was around writings by "some Aussie" playing at keeping herself busy by knocking out a few natural perfumes was eye opening news to me. At the end of the project I'm so much better setup for being able to truly appreciate what you and the other members of the guild actually do.

    Please everyone do keep up your good work.

    note: My previous comment I removed for further editing and spell checking.

  3. Ambrosia, this is a lovely post; gracious and informative.
    I feel quite special having had the chance to sample Craving very early in its journey!
    Having read many of the reviews, I have a sense Craving unlocks in each wearer one of their deepest yearnings.
    For others reading along, I received my sample 'blind', with no info about the ingredients, which meant I had absolutely no preconceptions about what it was I would be smelling ...and so my experience of Craving was entirely emotional.
    And here's the interesting thing - all perfumes containing vetiver do not do well on my skin which grabs vetiver, ramps it right up, and denies the other notes a presence. Nevertheless, sampling Craving was an alluring, and seductive experience, in which I sensed the spirit of this fragrance.
    I'm so glad to have had the chance to meet Craving.